Every parent wants one method to deal with behavior. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Not only isn’t there one method, but there isn’t one answer, either.
Everything in parenting is about weaving the past, the present, and the future into the choices you make to handle behavior. It’s also about temperament, development, and the teaching of life skills.
Let’s use lying as an example. Kids lie.
Kids lie for different reasons at different ages. That means the way you handle lying changes depending on how old your child is, the type of temperament they have, how lying was corrected when you were a child, the stress present in the now, and future goals.
Parenting is not instant pudding. However, some chocolate mousse would be lovely with a cup of coffee right now. Back to reality!
In my world, as a parent educator, we tend to break things out by developmental cycles. Lying is no exception. Here’s how the three age groups see lying and what to do.
Preschool ages 3-6
Lying is not usually lying at this age. What appears to be lying is wishful thinking due to the immature thinking skills a child has. Wishful thinking is an age-appropriate, unconscious attempt to make sense of the blurred lines between fantasy (wishful thinking) and reality.
Kids this age are too young to embrace the concept that lying is a moral choice. They don’t have the capacity to anticipate the consequences, no matter how many times you’ve told them or warned them. At this age, a child tells a fib because they see a mad look on your face or hear an angry tone of voice. Be honest, when you see that the fridge is open and juice has spilled across the floor, your voice tends to reflect the frustration you feel, right?
Try these words instead
“Sweetie, I know you *wish* that you didn’t spill the juice, but you did. We don’t tell lies in this house. Next time, please come and tell me right away. Now, tell me how you plan to clean it up?”
At this age, kids understand that lying is wrong. They lie to avoid any consequences and to distance themselves from the emotional discomfort of being caught.
Tip: This is the opportunity to teach, not punish, by introducing problem-solving and thinking ahead. Work with and support your child as you pull apart the lie. Transforming behavior into learning moments at this age can help you prevent more significant issues during the teen years. This age is when kids learn more from what you do than what you say. If you tell your sister that you can’t talk because you’re walking out of the house, then sit down to watch TV, your child thinks lying is okay and continues to do it, no matter what you say or do.
Try these words instead: “I’d like you to go to your room and think about what you just said. Come out when you’re ready to tell me what really happened.”
When it’s evident that a child has lied, or you suspect it, skip over the fact that the child lied. Remaining focused on the lie opens the door to more lying, arguing, and power struggles. The pressure a child feels as they realize you already know what happened, but have chosen to let them share the truth when they’re ready causes them to spill the beans pretty quickly.
This age is when peers become the source of all that is good and true, and parents/adults become the source of all that evil and ignorant—kidding, well, not really.
Tip: Teens need to learn the impact that their lie has on others. They need to know that lying has dangerous consequences at their age. They need to know that your trust is on the line. Kids are begging to be treated like adults and need to know that their behavior dictates how much freedom and responsibility they can handle.
Words to use: Ask them how they feel when they lie? Does their stomach flip? Do their palms get sweaty? Does their heart race when they lie? Kids also need to know that our parasympathetic nervous system sends us uncomfortable feelings when someone lies to us. Making her aware of her warning signals shows her that she can control herself, which is what any teen wants.
Reframe white lies.
Many believe that telling a white lie to spare someone’s feelings is okay. The problem is, it’s still a lie. That subtle distinction is lost on many kids.
Tell a portion of the truth instead.
Instead of lying and saying, “I love this sweater,” trying saying anything you do like about the sweater, even though you’re going to donate it. You can teach kids to say, “How did you know red was my favorite color? That was a great choice, thanks!”
I hope this helps!
Now, go hug your kids!